I remember the warm summer breeze and fresh smell of Ma's homemade pie in the oven. Oh, what a wonderful time that was. My childhood was filled with many adventures and tales, though my fondest memory is of Gracie, my pet raccoon.

It all began one day when Ma sent me to Mr. Spencer's general store to pick up some flour. Mr. Spencer, as usual was working hard behind his desk stacking shelves.

"Hi Mr. Spencer." I said happily.

"Billy, what brings you here?" Mr. Spencer said surprised.

"Well, Ma says we need some flour."

"I got some in the back. I'll get a bag for ya."

I waited patiently for him. My eyes were glued to the candy jar as always. Ma said if I wanted candy, I had to work for it. But I never could find a job at my age. Getting a piece of candy was a rare treat.

I could hear Mr. Spencer rummaging through boxes in the back of the store. He was the oldest most unorganized storekeeper around. Most folks said what he needed was a wife. But I didn't see the point. I don't think even a woman could have cleaned his store up.

I was lost in thought when all of a sudden there was a commotion from the back room. Mr. Spencer was a yelling and screaming.

"Get back here boy!" There's a coon in my store!"

Filled with excitement, I ran as fast as my eight year old legs would let me. When I got to the back room, there was Mr. Spencer standing on a chair and holding a broom like a sword.

"Get that thing out of here!"

"Where is it?"

"Under that box. Where the heck do you think it would be?"

I stared into the box filled room. I had no idea which box he meant, but luckily I saw the one wiggle.

I crept over to the box slowly and took Mr. Spencer's cane. I flipped over the box quickly and jumped back. But to my surprise, it was just a little coon huddled in the corner quivering.

"Why Mr. Spencer, it's just a baby." I walked over cautiously and picked up the coon. She was not much bigger than my hand. Her eyes could not have been open for very long. Quickly she crawled into my coat pocket. "There ain't nothing to be afraid of."

"You better get rid of that varmint outside! Don't touch it again either!" Mr. Spencer screamed harshly.

"Alright Mr. Spencer." I changed topics quickly. "Did you find the flour?"

"Yeah," He pointed. "Just take it, I don't want to get near that coon. You just tell your Ma it's free as long as I get one of her famous apple pies."

"Thank you Mr. Spencer. I'll be sure to tell her." I grabbed the flour and ran out the backdoor.

As soon as I was out of sight I pulled the coon out of my pocket. She ran up my arm and perched on my shoulder. I reached up to pet her, but she crawled down my back and onto my other shoulder.

"Fine, be that way."

I walked the rest of the way home with her on one should and the sack of flour on the other. From that moment on, I knew that she was going to be my little coon.

--

I'll never forget Ma's reaction when I walked in the door carrying a coon. It was dinner time, and she was already awfully angry because I was late. And carrying in a coon just made things worse.

"Billy, you put that varmint outside! What were you thinking?"

I wanted to argue, but Pa was at the table. I didn't want no whipping for back talking.

"Yes ma'am." I said downheartedly. I turned back to the door. There went my dream of a pet raccoon. But to my joy, Pa stopped me.

"Where'd you get the coon?"

"At Mr. Spencer's Pa. It was in the back of the store."

Pa thought for a moment and said. "Keep it in one of the wire cages in the barn. Some day, it will be good practice for Luke and Daisy."

Luke and Daisy were two of our many hunting dogs. Pa loved to go out coon hunting every night. Luke and Daisy was a couple of pups Pa bought a few weeks before. He couldn't wait for them to get old enough to start their training.

"I can keep him? Really? Thanks Pa!" I yelled. I scared the coon a little. She dove inside my coat pocket again. "I'm going to call her Gracie."

Pa sighed and said, "She ain't a pet, Billy."

I was too excited to hear him. By the time he finished his sentence, I was already out the door and sprinting to the barn. Not many other kids at school could say they had a pet coon.

--

Gracie spent the first month or so of her life in that cage. She was too little to be any place else. Everyday I went down to see her and she got more and more friendly. Sometimes I'd open the cage door and let her climb up on my shoulder, but Pa didn't like that. He kept reminding me that she was a practice coon, not a pet stole.

When Gracie got old enough I got to let her out of the cage. She had free roam. Ma wasn't to happy with it though. Ma didn't like a coon running around when guests came. She said it would make us look bad.

Gracie's personality grew everyday, especially when we went down to the creek. She would get really excited. She'd run like a child, and when she got tired she'd sit by the waters edge and wait for a small fish or a tadpole to swim by. She was the most vicious thing you ever saw when she got her hands on a fish. It was gone before you knew it.

One of my favorite memories of Gracie was when Pa and I went down to the creek to try out his new canoe. Gracie followed us like normal, but neither of us expected her to do what she did.

Pa and I got in the canoe and left Gracie on the bank. Pa was real proud of that canoe.

"How do you think it floats boy?"

"Real nice Pa." I said as we drifted downstream. "Ain't no place I'd rather be."

Pa smiled and picked up his paddle. I was about to pick up mine when I noticed something.

"Pa look over there!"

Coming up behind us was Gracie. Paddling for all she was worth. I started laughing, but Pa, not very fond of Gracie, told me to forget about her and get going.

We didn't get to far when Gracie caught up to us. She looked up giving me the most pitiful look. Pa glanced down at her and said,

"Put her in here Billy."

My heart leapt. I proudly picked up my wet coon and set her in the canoe. I don't even think Pa minded her much. She stayed in the middle of the canoe with her front feet propped on the side, watching everything go by. From that day on, Pa never brought up her being a practice coon again.

--

Eventually, school started again. I hated school, especially when I was in the third grade. Miss Betsy didn't cut no breaks for third graders. Second graders could get away with anything. Her theory was that third graders should have the manners of a king. I don't know how, but she saw everything and she loved bring out her paddle. Life in that one room school house was tough.

I'll always remember Tom. He never quit bragging about his dog. He claimed that the dog would wait for him all day outside the school. But, that dog never waited all day. I sat by a window, and he would leave whenever he felt like it. But he was always back before we got out though.

One day during the fourth graders math lesson, the girl who sat beside me interrupted the teacher and screamed,

"Look Miss Betsy, there's a coon outside! In broad daylight!"

Miss Betsy peered out the window and said,

"That coon always comes by. She's friendlier than a kitten."

I almost fell out of my chair in shock. Miss Betsy befriended a coon? I never reckoned she was much for animals. I had always wondered where Gracie went when I was working with Pa. She'd be gone for a few hours, but she always came home for supper.

I stood up and said nervously, "That's Gracie my pet coon."

Miss Betsy looked surprised. She knew how much my Pa loved coon hunting.

"Your coon? Really. I never reckoned your Pa would let you own a coon." She paused and said, "Anyway, she can wait outside with Tom's mutt."

I said thank you and endured the rest of the day. I kept peeking out the window to see if Gracie was still there. She stayed the entire time.

When the day was over all of the other kids stared in amazement as I reached down and patted Gracie on the head. The really was shocked when she climbed up on my shoulder.

After showing of Gracie to all of the other kids, I was ready to leave. But, Miss Betsy came a running from the school house to stop me. When she finally reached me, she unwrapped a piece of Mr. Spencer's candy, and dropped it onto the ground.

"I give her a piece every day." Miss Betsy said.

Gracie leaped down from my shoulder and grabbed the candy. I was disgusted as I watched her eat my dream away.

When Gracie finished, I told Miss Betsy bye and headed to Mr. Spencer's. When I was out of Miss Betsy sight, I cussed Gracie and asked her,

"How come you get candy?"

She just looked at me innocently and climbed in my pocket.

I hated going to Mr. Spencer's. Grocery shopping was women's work. I got teased at school for it, but Ma made me. I even think Mr. Spencer felt bad for me.

When I got insight of the store, Gracie jumped out of my pocket and ran towards it.

"Not here too, Gracie." I said amused. I knew Mr. Spencer would never let a coon in his store.

But to my surprise, when Gracie made it to the glass doors she stood on her hind legs and pawed at it until Mr. Spencer opened the door. I was never more surprised in all my life. Mr. Spencer befriended a coon.

When I made it to the door, I decided to let myself in rather than pull a Gracie.

"Billy!" Mr. Spencer said happily, "Seems like Gracie beat you here! Your Ma tells me all about her." He sighed, "Gracie never misses a day. She is always down at my store waiting for her treat."

"Treat?" I asked not really wanting to know the answer.

"She loves them orange gumdrops." He said smiling. He reached candy jar and pulled out three gumdrops and set them on the counter. "She followed your Ma here one day and your Ma bought her a piece. She's been addicted every since. Gracie climbed up on Mr. Spencer's chair and from there, jumped on the counter and devoured her treats. Ma bought the coon candy! Ma said it was a waste of money! I was dumbfounded.

--

Gracie was the neighborhood celebrity. Everyone loved her and everyday she'd visit almost the entire town. At each place, she'd get some kind of treat.. She was getting fat. I couldn't carry her on my shoulder no more.

If I continued to tell stories on Gracie, this story would never end. So, I'll have to finish with this one. The one that's hardest to tell.

The school year was almost over. It never failed either, everyday Gracie would wait for me outside the school. I loved my coon. She was more loyal than any dog in the world.

The bell was about to ring and I looked outside the school window. No Gracie. I was surprised, but thought nothing of it. She probably went to Mr. Spencer's. My teacher noticed too and told me to send Gracie back up here when I found her.

I walked down to Mr. Spencer's figuring I'd find her there.

"Mr. Spencer!" I yelled into the empty store.

I heard something crash in the back followed by Mr. Spencer's screaming. I walked to the back and asked Mr. Spencer,

"You seen Gracie?"

Mr. Spencer stopped screaming and said,

"Come to think of it, no, she hasn't been here today."

"Thanks. If you see her, tell me."

I left the store sadly. Worry was starting to build inside me. The last time I had seen Gracie was at supper last night. The entire time I walked home I called her name.

I got home late, but surprisingly, Ma wasn't mad. She told me to wash up for supper. I didn't even have to help Pa feed the hounds. I wondered what chore Ma had for me to do. I always had to feed the dogs unless Ma needed me for something.

"Ma, have you seen Gracie?" I asked knowing what the answer would be.

"No." Was all Ma said.

I was surprised by her short answer, but I didn't question it.

Supper went by slowly. I had decided to go with Pa coon hunting that night in hopes that Luke or Daisy would lead me to Gracie. I decided not to ask Pa till after dinner because he was in an awful bad mood.

I carried my plate to the sink and I asked Pa kindly,

"I want to go coon hunting with you tonight Pa. Maybe one of the hounds will lead me to Gracie."

Ma reached over and touched Pa's hand.

"Billy," Pa said, "Come down to the barn with me."

I pulled on my boots and followed Pa down to the barn. He was very quiet.

"If you don't want me to go coon hunting with you, I won't Pa. Gracie probably just found a new place to explore. I'll find her tomorrow after school."

"No Billy, that's not it. You see, time throws us curve balls, and there is nothing we can do to change it. We just have to learn to move on."

"Pa, not be disrespectful, but you're making no sense." I said confused.

Pa was silent the rest of the way to the barn. He lead me into the back corner and stepped aside. There was Gracie, dead.

I ran up to her and gave her a pat. "Gracie?" I asked. My eyes were filling up with tears. "Gracie."

She never moved. It was then when I noticed the dried blood on her back. She had been shot.

I bawled and hugged her. I managed to choke out,

"Pa, what happened."

"I found her in the woods son. Someone must not have realized she was pet. I'm sorry Billy. I'm really sorry."

Pa kneeled down and hugged me. For the first time, I saw Pa cry. But it didn't really matter then. All I knew was my sweet Gracie was dead.

--

I still miss her today. She taught me a lot was the light of my childhood. We buried her under the Oak tree in our backyard. Mr. Spencer, Miss. Betsy, and my entire school, all twenty students came to see her one last time. Ma even bought me Mr. Spencer's candy to cheer me up, but I buried it with Gracie. She was my hero, my baby coon. She was my Gracie.


Please review! I hope you enjoyed the story! I spent almost 3 hours on it!

God Bless!